Federation University has been awarded an international accreditation for its progress and commitment to remove the barriers that prevent women from achieving their potential in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
The Athena SWAN (Scientific Women's Academic Network) Institutional Bronze Award is presented by Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) and endorses the university's commitment to a four year program of actions to improve gender equity in its academic workforce.
The action plan outlines more than 40 priorities focusing on recruiting more women in STEM fields and ensuring the university does not lose female talent by addressing organisational culture, recruitment, induction, career development and promotion.
Those flexible working arrangements had an enormous impact in allowing me to grow as a senior female leader here.Nina Fotinatos, Federation University director CLIPP
Associate Professor Nina Fotinatos drew on the challenges she experienced moving from work in the medical science industry to academia when leading the Athena SWAN project at FedUni.
"When I joined academia I had a one, three and five-year-old and moved to a full time lecturing role," she said.
"That transition was quite challenging. Part of that is around expectations for academia are much different to industry and also being able to bring in the industry knowledge I had and put it into the academic space while juggling those caring responsibilities."
Under the four-year plan, FedUni will offer extra training for managers in gender equity and diversity, support for early career researchers and for researchers returning from maternity leave, support with preparing for academic promotion and a program to address the impact of unconscious bias on women's career prospects.
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Associate Professor Fotinatos said flexible work arrangements including work hours, leave to cater for family commitments and working off campus made an 'enormous difference' in her academic career - she now works as director of the university's Centre for Learning, Innovation and Professional Practice.
"Those flexible working arrangements had an enormous impact in allowing me to grow as a senior female leader here," she said.
FedUni data shows there are more women (62 per cent) than men (38 per cent) represented at lecturer level as of June 2019.
But there are fewer senior female academic staff engaged in STEM disciplines compared to men - Senior Lecturer 44 per cent, Associate Professor 44 per cent and Professor 43 per cent.
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FedUni's recognition for its progress and commitment to gender equity comes as a number of programs in Ballarat are working to introduce young girls to STEM, including the Girls in STEM program at Ballarat Tech School and the IBM EXITE camp.
Associate Professor Fotinatos said there needed to be a focus on encouraging year 7, 8 and 9 students to choose STEM subjects in senior school, then to encourage those girls to go on to higher education or TAFE in STEM, and for role models to show potential career paths.
"That is around universities working with industry to highlight career opportunities for women, highlight successes, highlight the flexibility that industries have and a level of awareness they have around gender equity in their workplace," she said.
"If industry can come forward and say 'we have identified existing perceived barriers, this is what our workplace is doing to address them', that may have an impact on a female's career choice."
"Once a female is in an industry area they are passionate about, it is about being open and honest around those challenges, to identify challenges, work with staff to create solutions to address them and being transparent in doing that. Without that, it makes it difficult for women to progress in their workplace to senior leadership roles."